Iceland Opens Borders to Vaccinated Travellers from Outside Europe

Reynisfjara - Vík - suðurland

Travellers from outside Europe can now visit Iceland if they can present a valid certificate confirming they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have antibodies to the disease. Iceland first closed its borders to travellers outside the EEA/EFTA in late March of 2020. It loosened restrictions on travellers from a handful of countries that summer, later tightening them again as the pandemic picked up speed across the globe.

Vaccinated travellers and travellers who have recovered from COVID-19 are still required to undergo one COVID-19 test upon arrival to Iceland, as data has shown they may still carry and transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Both groups are exempt from the five-day quarantine required of all other travellers entering Iceland from abroad as well as the follow-up test administered five days after arrival.

Read more about the requirements for travel to Iceland in 2021 post COVID-19.

Iceland Exempts More Travellers from COVID-19 Border Testing as of Today

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Travellers arriving in Iceland from Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Germany are exempt from COVID-19 testing and quarantine as of today. The four states have been added to the list of countries deemed “safe” by Iceland’s authorities, which also includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

The change applies to residents of the four countries, including Icelandic citizens, as well as anyone who has resided in those countries for 14 consecutive days before travelling to Iceland. Icelandic citizens and residents of Iceland arriving from other countries are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, or a 4-5 day quarantine and two tests. Other travellers can choose between a single COVID-19 test upon arrival or a 14-day quarantine.

Read More: What do I need to know when travelling to Iceland in 2020 Post COVID-19?

Foreign Tourists Less Likely to Spread COVID-19

“When the development of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 14 days is examined according to the information of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), the spread of the epidemic is minimal in the Nordic countries excepting Sweden and in Germany. In addition, we have known that foreign tourists are generally unlikely to infect others. With these two combined [factors], and in light of our experience with testing since June 15, it is reasonable to drop these strict requirements for tourists from these countries,” Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is quoted as saying in a notice from the Directorate of Health.

The number of travellers entering Iceland from abroad had been steadily increasing since the country implemented COVID-19 testing at its borders on June 15. In recent days, the number has been straining the country’s testing capacity of 2,000 samples per day, a factor that likely influenced the Chief Epidemiologist’s decision to add more countries to Iceland’s safe list, a move he previously stated would not be made before August.

Of the roughly 40,000 tests that have been administered to arriving travellers since June 15, only 14 active cases have been detected. There are currently 11 active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, none in hospital.

Iceland Reopens Borders to 14 Additional Countries

Reykjavík

Iceland will lift travel restrictions on residents of 14 countries starting tomorrow, in accordance with the decision of EU member states to do the same. Residents of the European Union, EEA, EFTA, and Schengen Area countries are, as before, permitted entry into Iceland.

The 14 countries are:

-Algeria

-Australia

-Canada

-Georgia

-Japan

-Morocco

-New Zealand

-Rwanda

-Serbia

-South Korea

-Montenegro

-Tunisia

-Thailand

-Uruguay

Read More: What do I need to know when travelling to Iceland in 2020 Post COVID-19?

The list will be reviewed regularly. Some travellers remain exempt from these restrictions, including students from non-Schengen countries coming to study in Iceland and specialists coming to work. The Directorate of Immigration provides more information on travel restrictions, exemptions, and documents required of travellers before departure and upon arrival.

Iceland to Reorganise COVID-19 Border Testing Following deCODE Withdrawal

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist aims to continue testing for COVID-19 at Iceland’s borders throughout July, despite the imminent withdrawal of deCODE, a biopharmaceutical company that was processing a majority of the tests, in six days. DeCODE’s departure from the initiative reduces the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity by around 75%, from some 2,000 to 500 samples per day. In a briefing this afternoon, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason outlined various possibilities for increasing testing capacity within the Icelandic healthcare system.

May Test 10 Samples at Once

Between 500-1,950 have been tested per day at the country’s borders since June 15. The only institution in Iceland, besides deCODE, that has the equipment and staff to process COVID-19 samples is the National University Hospital’s Virology Department, which has a capacity of 500 samples per day. Þórólfur suggested the Virology Department’s capacity could be increased by testing 10 samples at once. The samples would then only be tested individually in the case of a positive result. This method has been proven effective in Germany, Þórólfur stated, but did carry the risk of less accurate results.

More Countries Could Be Exempt from Testing in August

Passengers arriving in Iceland from the Faroe Islands or Greenland are presently exempt from testing and quarantine upon arrival in Iceland. More countries could be added to the list in August, stated Þórólfur, if July’s screening data shows their residents are unlikely to bring COVID-19 to Iceland. Only 10 passengers have been diagnosed with an active COVID-19 infection since June 15, of 24,265 tested.

While Icelandic authorities currently do not accept foreign certificates of COVID-19 tests, Þórólfur stated that could change as part of efforts to increase capacity. He added, however, that the government’s plan to tests Icelandic residents twice upon entering the country would be upheld.

Any changes to border testing also depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. “We could open more, we may have to close more,” Þórólfur stated.

Additional Equipment Not Expected Until October

Director of Health Alma Möller, who also spoke at the briefing, stated that authorities had ordered more equipment for processing COVID-19 samples that would be able to increase the country’s testing capacity. Due to global demand for the equipment, however, it was not expected to arrive before October.

No Written Contract Between Government and deCODE

In an open letter published yesterday, deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson said the company would halt its participation in the screening initiative after July 13. When asked at the briefing whether the government had signed a written contract with deCODE governing their testing activities, Þórólfur stated they had not. “We just shook on it,” he remarked. He added that a working contract had been signed between the Chief Epidemiologist’s Office and deCODE when the company began testing the general population for COVID-19 earlier this year, and it hadn’t been deemed necessary to draw up another for the border testing scheme.

EU Opposes Iceland’s Border Opening Proposal

Icelandair plane Keflavík

Iceland’s government would like to open borders to more countries in July, but the decision could be affected by its membership in the Schengen Agreement, RÚV reports. The Icelandic government is waiting for the European Union to publish a list of countries from which it will allow travellers into the Schengen Area. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says Iceland’s proposal to take a more liberal stance toward border opening did not enjoy support within the EU, which hinted that if Iceland did not adhere to the Union’s decisions, it could be closed off from the Schengen Area.

Though Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it is a member of the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area’s outer borders have been closed since late March, but plans are in place to reopen the area to outside travellers from July 1.

Unlikely EU Will Open to US Travel in July

EU member states are presently working to define the criteria that countries must fulfil in order to be considered safe destinations for EU residents. The criteria will take into account the number of COVID-19 infections per capita, among other factors.

“It can be considered very likely that the United States will not be on [the list of safe countries] considering the situation today,” Áslaug Arna stated in a radio interview this morning. She expressed her disappointment that the US had not opened its borders to Icelanders, as she had been hoping it would be possible to open Iceland’s borders to US citizens from July 1.

Iceland in Unique Position

In talks with the EU, Áslaug Arna says Icelandic authorities have stressed the country’s unique position – it has relatively few entry points and arriving travellers have the option to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. “We have reiterated that we’re screening everyone [for COVID-19 at the borders] at this time,” Áslaug stated. Iceland’s representatives have also proposed that Iceland can conduct border control for travellers proceeding to other Schengen Area countries and thus enforce its travel restrictions while still being exempt from them.

The European Union has, however stressed that it expects Schengen Area member states to adhere to its forthcoming list of safe countries in their own travel regulations. “It hasn’t been well received that we have been calling for […] more opening. It has been hinted that borders within this area could be closed to us.” Icelandic authorities have yet to decide whether they will comply with the impending EU list.